This weekend, I attended the 31st Annual Southwest Texas Popular /American Culture Association Conference (or the SWTX PCA/ACA for short). I met all sorts of wonderful people, however, academic conferences are attended by mainly other academics. The general public is befuddled by the lengthy names of such events, and are unable to recite the name when buying a ticket. The names of scholarly gatherings were created by Dostoyevsky:
Icy Hand of Society: Memorize the name or we cut off your thumbs!
Protagonist: South Texas Cultural Affairs… crap.
The keynote speaker at the conference, Adilifu Nama, expressed the need to find methods of inviting the general public into the world of academic scholarship. Aside from changing the name of the conference to something easier to memorize, like Free Beer, there are many ways to fuse public interest with the world of “high theory.” And of course, I will not offer any good ideas to generate interest in discourse, but they should be entertaining.
1. Graduate students must mud wrestle during their presentations. Mud wrestling, a traditionally female dominated sport, must open the doors to males for this one to work.
2. Hire a staff of MTV VJ’S to televise the event, “Y0 dawg, you think the abjection of the WTC hizzy in da bomb diggity movie iz were itz at?”
3. Allow audience members to text #5550111 to have their messages appear in the slides during presentations.
4. Require any academic disputes to settle their differences by public events, such as a dance offs, violin playing contests, and/or Thunder Dome.
5. Start “clan wars.” Invite fans to “step into the ring” and fight over the superior cultural phenomena (Star Wars fans verses Star Trek fans, Twilight fans verses Harry Potter fans, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fans verses Charmed fans verses the one Dark Angel fan, etc.). There even can be character specific matches, such as Han Solo verses Captain Picard. These character matches will finally answer the age old question, does dressing up like the character really give you their powers?
6. Have a celebrity stick poking booth. The concept is the same as a kissing booth but the public pays for a stick to poke their favorite celebrity. Stars such as Steven Baldwin, Vanilla Ice, and Tiffany really need the work.
7. Always have a panel for mad scientists and their wacky antics to rule the world. Secretly invite a super hero and/0r spy, then watch the fun ensue.
8. Arguably, the best way to gain public interest is to disillusion the image of the “stuffy academic” and hire models, actors, and circus performers to present our research. The models will of course hold the research near their finely chiseled chest or well sculpted bosom, while the sad clown from Cirque du Soleil deeply imagines the concepts from the paper. The actors, (preferably Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) will be there to walk thoughtfully down the street after wards, caught up in the raw emotional complexity of the moment.